Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winter Burn on Blue Atlas Cedar and Other Evergreens

Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar
Some winters have been known to be unusually harsh on the landscape.  I for one have been getting a lot of questions regarding winter burn on weeping and upright Blue Atlas Cedar as well as on Cryptomeria and Golden Oriental Spruce.  The narrow needles on these evergreens can be prone to dehydration due to the drying effect of winter winds that can cause the needles to appear brown.  The intense snow and reflection of rays from the sun can also magnify this effect. 

Winter Burn on Blue Atlas Cedar

This browning of the needles or "winter burn" should correct itself once the weather starts to warm and water is able to get to the cells of the plant and once again activate the chlorophyll within.  If the tree is well established it should most likely fully recover and start to push out new growth as the temperatures rise.  If the tree looks severely damaged then getting water to the roots and deep root feeding in early spring are recommended to help the plant to recover.  Deep root feeding is a controlled fertilization process that supplies immediate beneficial nutrients directly to the root system to give it a boost. There is also a product on the market called PHC BioPak Plus which contains micro nutrients and beneficial bacteria to help the roots to absorb nutrients and help plants in stress.

Just an added note that the needles of Cryptomeria japonica do turn a bronze color in winter which is perfectly normal.  I have found that with the severe weather there has also been an increased number of fallen branches and browning of needles and branches; however, the winter winds seem to be nature's way of giving the trees a good cleaning out.   In the spring sunlight will be able to reach the inner portion of these evergreens and cause the trees to push out new growth.  

Skylands Oriental Spruce
There may be some winter burn and dead branches on your Oriental Spruce as well from the winter's winds and snow.  Spring is the best time to cut out any dead branches and the browned needles should recover once water moves back into the cells and chlorophyll causes the plant to re-gain its color. 

It is not recommended to spray the above-mentioned trees with anti-desiccant because it has been known to change the beautiful color of these trees. When in doubt always ask a tree professional.

Many evergreens do go through a natural shed of their inner needles approximately every three years in order to make room for new growth.  Once the harshness of the winter winds diminish and spring arrives new growth will eventually push out and restore the natural beauty of your evergreens.


Author: Lee@A Guide To Northeastern Gardening, Copyright 2011. All rights reserved


  1. I'm a little worried about my WBAC due to the opposite conditions. In NW Texas, we've had a blistering Summer. The sun has caused most of the needles to turn brown and fall off. Many of the branches have become brittle toward the ends. Since the tree is potted, I've moved it to an area providing more shade. I've also started to deep water once a week.

    Do you have any suggestions? I'd really hate to lose this tree....


  2. The fact that your Bue Atlas Cedar is dropping needles is actually a good sign because it is the tree's way of conserving energy but it also means that your tree is under stress and going into shock. Continue watering your tree every couple of days. (Note: Deep watering and allowing the water to run through and sit in the pot could be harmful to your tree.) Blue Atlas cedar do not like their roots constantly wet. I use a nutrient/yucca plant booster for stressed plants called PHC BioPak™ Plus 3-0-20. It is available at nurserys or through a landscaper and works well. There is also a water absorbant product called Bio Gel that you mix into the potting soil around the plant. The gel absorbs water and slowly releases it into the soil as the plant needs it. Hope this helps. ~ Lee

  3. My wife and I just bought what we call a "charlie Brown" christmas tree, as you'd refer to it a 5-6' Blue Atlas Cedar tree. My wife has always loved these trees and we found a good deal on a healthy one yesterday at a nursery nearby. The reason for my question is regarding the planting. We plan to move from this house in the next 6-9 months and we would want to take this tree with us. As such, is it possible for these trees to successsfully live and thrive in a large planter/pot? If so, what recommendations do you have to ensure it does survive? A side reason for it is because we aren't completely sure where to position it in our yard, but we know exactly where it could go if it were in a planter.

    Also, in case it affects the response, we live in Oklahoma.

    Thank you in advance for your help!
    Dustin Turner

  4. Hi Dustin, The best advise that I can give you is that the tree needs to get into the ground. It is unlikely to make it through the winter in a planter and even if it does it would probably go into stress and start dropping needles. Even at this point once you get it into the ground it will need to kept watered until the ground freezes. You should also apply a 2 " mulch layering around the tree to give it a little more protection. Some may say that you can put the pot and tree right into the ground until spring but the roots really need room and I would be concerned about root girdling and lack of oxygen.

    Hope this helps. ~ Lee

  5. Hi there, we recently bought a WBAC that had apparently had a rough Summer here in NC. One of it's branches/shoots had been removed by the nursery, but the tree had new growth and seems to be doing well since we got her into the ground. I have (2) questions; now that the weather is cooling, how much needle loss can we expect, and how much watering should this tree be receiving through the Winter and Fall? We have a dripline to the tree, but I am not sure the tree needs daily watering. It has been in the ground now for a month and is approximately 3 feet tall with one long shoot. So far we have had minimal needle loss, but I did notice one small shoot was losing needles today.

    1. Hi Eve,
      Some needle loss on a Weeping Blue Atlas is normal. Cedars tend to shed their inner, more mature needles in order to make room for new growth. The amount of loss you would see is a lot less than you would see with a pine tree. Try to keep watering the tree as far into fall as possible (until the ground freezes). At this point you could probably cut the watering back to every other day.


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